The Best Road Trip, according to Science

A while ago, Tracy Staedter from Discovery News proposed an interesting idea to Randy Olson, a Senior Data Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics: use the same algorithm from his Where’s Waldo article to compute the optimal road trip across every state in the U.S.

 So he did.

"One of the hardest parts of planning a road trip," Olson writes, "is deciding where to stop along the way. Given how large and diverse the U.S. is, it’s especially difficult to make a road trip that will appeal to everyone. To stand a chance at making an interesting road trip, Tracy and I laid out a few rules from the beginning:

  1. The trip must make at least one stop in all 48 states in the contiguous U.S.
  2. The trip would only make stops at National Natural Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Parks, or National Monuments.
  3. The trip must be taken by car and never leave the U.S.

With those objectives in mind, Tracy compiled a list of 50 major U.S. landmarks — one in each state excluding Alaska/Hawaii and including D.C., and two in California" (via)

The result is an epic itinerary "with a mix of inner city exploration, must-see historical sites, and beautiful natural landscapes."

"All that was left was to figure out the path that would minimize our time spent driving and maximize our time spent enjoying the landmarks."

  Click  here  for the interactive version

Click here for the interactive version

Assuming no traffic, this road trip will take about 224 hours (9.33 days) of driving in total, so it’s truly an epic undertaking that will take at least 2-3 months to complete. The best part is that this road trip is designed so that you can start anywhere on the route as long as you follow it from then on. You’ll hit every major area in the U.S. on this trip, and as an added bonus, you won’t spend too long driving through the endless corn fields of Nebraska.

Here’s the Google Maps of the route: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

(Note that Google maps itself only allows 10 waypoints to be routed at a time, hence why there’s multiple Maps links.)

Here’s the full list of landmarks in order:

  1. Grand Canyon, AZ
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
  4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
  5. Pikes Peak, CO
  6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
  7. The Alamo, TX
  8. The Platt Historic District, OK
  9. Toltec Mounds, AR
  10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
  11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
  12. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
  13. USS Alabama, AL
  14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
  15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
  16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
  17. Lost World Caverns, WV
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
  19. Mount Vernon, VA
  20. White House, Washington, DC
  21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
  22. New Castle Historic District, Delaware
  23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
  24. Liberty Bell, PA
  25. Statue of Liberty, NY
  26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
  27. The Breakers, RI
  28. USS Constitution, MA
  29. Acadia National Park, ME
  30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
  31. Shelburne Farms, VT
  32. Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
  33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
  34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
  35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
  36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
  37. Gateway Arch, MO
  38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
  39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
  40. Taliesin, WI
  41. Fort Snelling, MN
  42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
  43. Mount Rushmore, SD
  44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
  45. Glacier National Park, MT
  46. Hanford Site, WA
  47. Columbia River Highway, OR
  48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
  49. San Andreas Fault, CA
  50. Hoover Dam, NV

(For some entertainment candy, read through the comments on his blog post . . . people are pretty opinionated on what was chosen and what was not. Especially people from WA. It's a waste of time, but fully worth it.)


Bonus: Road trip stopping at popular U.S. cities

"If you’re more of a city slicker, the road trip above may not look very appealing to you because it involves spending a lot of time outdoors. But worry not, for I created a second road trip just for you! The road trip below stops at the TripAdvisor-rated Best City to Visit in every contiguous U.S. state.

Note: Again, there’s an extra stop in Cleveland to force the route between New Hampshire and Michigan to stay in the U.S. rather than go through Canada. If you’re able to drive through Canada without issue, then take the direct route through Canada instead. But really, Cleveland is a nice city to stop in (ranked #53 on TripAdvisor)."

  Click  here  for the interactive version

Click here for the interactive version

"This road trip will more-or-less follow the same path as the major U.S. landmarks trip, covering a slightly shorter 12,290 mile (19,780 km) route around the U.S. Some larger states — like California and Texas — may have multiple cities you’d like to visit, so it’s probably worthwhile to stop at other larger cities along the route.

You may note that cities from North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia are missing. Out of the top 400 recommended cities to visit on TripAdvisor, none were from North Dakota, Vermont, nor West Virginia. This is especially interesting because TripAdvisor reviewers recommend cities like Flint, MI — the 7th most crime-ridden city in the U.S. — over any city in North Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. I’ll leave the interpretation of that fact to the reader."

Here’s the Google Maps of the route: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Here’s the full list of cities in order:

  1. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  2. Wichita, Kansas
  3. Denver, Colorado
  4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  5. Phoenix, Arizona
  6. Las Vegas, Nevada
  7. San Francisco, California
  8. Portland, Oregon
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Boise, Idaho
  11. Park City, Utah
  12. Jackson, Wyoming
  13. Billings, Montana
  14. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  15. Omaha, Nebraska
  16. Des Moines, Iowa
  17. Minneapolis, Minnesota
  18. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  19. Chicago, Illinois
  20. Indianapolis, Indiana
  21. Louisville, Kentucky
  22. Columbus, Ohio
  23. Detroit, Michigan
  24. Cleveland, Ohio
  25. Manchester, New Hampshire
  26. Portland, Maine
  27. Boston, Massachusetts
  28. Providence, Rhode Island
  29. New Haven, Connecticut
  30. New York City, New York
  31. Ocean City, New Jersey
  32. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  33. Wilmington, Delaware
  34. Baltimore, Maryland
  35. Washington, D.C.
  36. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  37. Charlotte, North Carolina
  38. Charleston, South Carolina
  39. Orlando, Florida
  40. Atlanta, Georgia
  41. Nashville, Tennessee
  42. Birmingham, Alabama
  43. Jackson, Mississippi
  44. New Orleans, Louisiana
  45. Houston, Texas
  46. Little Rock, Arkansas
  47. Branson, Missouri


Happy Traveling!


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :   Getting Out More  :  Old Road Signs  :  Cycling to the tip of South America